WIT Launch: Innovation Summit Speakers

Check out our lineup of incredible industry speakers, thought-leaders and innovators.

11:00 - 11:15 EST - Welcome, with WIT President, Janice Ross

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Managing Partner, Brand Fresh Management, LLC / WIT President

Named Game Changer in 2017 by License Global Magazine, Janice is a global licensing agent and branding executive with 20+ years experience developing and executing innovative consumer product strategies. As President of Women in Toys, Licensing and Entertainment, she is a passionate proponent of advancing women through mentoring, leadership opportunities and educational programs. Janice's background and experience leading teams at powerhouse companies like LEGO and American Greetings make her uniquely qualified to lead the WIT organization into the next decade.



President of Branded Entertainment; Hasbro & eOne, Hasbro Inc.

Samantha Lomow is a results-driven executive with 20 years of global marketing and managerial experience. She is highly adept at cultivating talent and creating a culture of collaboration and accountability. In her current role as President of Branded Entertainment, Ms. Lomow provides leadership and oversight for Hasbro and eOne branded entertainment, driving key growth initiatives and setting operational priorities. Ms. Lomow has been instrumental in Hasbro’s evolution from a toy company to a global play and entertainment leader. Following Hasbro’s strategic Brand Blueprint, she has led the expansion of many of Hasbro’s iconic brands into new play experiences and new categories, such as consumer products, digital gaming and entertainment. She has also worked extensively across the industry with key partners including Disney, Universal, Nickelodeon, Sesame Workshop and Tomy.
She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Claire’s Inc. and the Day One Organization and is a member of Hasbro Children’s Hospital Advisory Council.

11:15 - 11:45 EST - Keynote

Jess Weiner


Founder & CEO, Talk to Jess

Keynote Speaker

Jess Weiner (WEE-ner) is a cultural expert and the CEO of Talk to Jess, where she advises brands and businesses on how to better reflect people in their media, marketing, products, and workforce. Jess has been a part of two culture-shifting moments for consumers. First, in 2006 with the launch of Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign, and then in 2016 as part of the team at Mattel who helped to change Barbie’s body. Jess also helped to reposition the Disney Princess dolls and works with animation studios on broadening character representation in video games. Her clients include: Aerie, Netflix, Warner Bros, Google, Amazon, and she worked with The White House Council for Women and Girls under the Obama administration. Jess is an adjunct professor at USC in the Annenberg School of Journalism, an acclaimed author, and was recently named by Fast Company as one of the most creative people in Business in the areas of Diversity and Education. Click here for more on Jess.

12:00 - 12:45 EST - Where Do (Toy) Babies Come From?

Deirdre Cross


Director, Product Development, Games, Funko Games

Working in toys and games since 2007, Deirdre spent more than a decade at the inimitable Forrest-Pruzan Creative, an invention, design, and playtesting studio specializing in board games. She has worn many hats –playtesting, producing, managing creative, sourcing, manufacturing, licensor collaboration, product strategy, and more. She has been instrumental in the creative development of more than 450 products during her tenure in the business, working with dozens of different game publishers. Her recent work includes the Disney Villainous Game, which won Game of the Year at the 2019 TOTY Awards. Deirdre lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons, and two orange cats.



President, Martell Media House

Michele has 30+ years of being an entertainment, media & technology attorney, working in LA and Austin, representing clients across a spectrum of industries - from film & TV to toys & games to technology. She has helped develop, finance, market and distribute thousands of hours of entertainment and was a pioneer in using digital theatrical distribution to showcase Event Cinema in movie theatres around the globe. She is a co-founder of UT Austin’s Immersive Media program, and works with live action, animation, XR and gaming clients. Michele is the Board President for Austin’s unique Forklift Danceworks, the Programming Chair for Women in Toys, Entertainment & Licensing, and serves as a mentor at The Capital Factory, the un.inc and DivInc.

Robin Sydney


Co-Founder, Zorbitz, Inc.

Robin Sydney and her mom Marian Heymsfield created Zorbitz in 2003. It was the American Dream. A mother-daughter company starting with $100 and desire to touch people’s Lives. It was just the two of us in a 1-bedroom apartment, tirelessly working day and night, but our dream was coming true. Today, Zorbitz is the leader in impulse products. Zorbitz is a women-owned, award-winning company known for its trendsetting, innovative products at a price everyone can afford. With multiple categories of products, Zorbitz is the go-to company specializing in PPE, Girls Collectibles, Sensory Toys, Arts and Crafts, Cell Phone Accessories, Meaningful Jewelry and so much more.

Ruth Synowic


Principal, Ruth Green Concepts, Inc.

Ruth Green-Synowic is an award-winning independent toy inventor and Principal at Ruth Green Concepts, Inc., a toy, game and consumer products design consultancy. Ruth’s career began with BMT nearly three decades ago and she’s applied her passion for creativity, product design, and her love of innovation to the toy industry ever since. She’s consulted for numerous toy companies and was VP of the Creative group for an agency where she led the creation of hundreds of global McDonald’s Happy Meal toy programs for over 16 years. Her playful contributions can be seen in more than 1,500 toys and products worldwide; including a game concept she pitched to Spin Master at WIT’s Empowerment Day which was consequently released this year: “Cone of Shame.”

Sara Farber


Co-Founder, Galactic Sneeze

Sara is co-founder of Galactic Sneeze, a toy and game invention studio in Brooklyn, NY. The wife-and-husband duo recently launched several games in partnership with Kikkerland Design, including Goat Yoga Party Game, Unicornhole, Clock Block, and Maskarades. They also self-published family game Schmovie and adult party game Spank the Yeti. Sara was previously the Director of Content Design at Fisher-Price, and has helped develop products with companies including Hasbro, Spin Master, and WowWee. From Sesame Street to SpongeBob SquarePants, she’s worked on hundreds of toys and games. Sara’s currently writing for a preschool TV series at 9 Story Media Group.

Yelitsa Jean Charles


Founder & Creative Directory, Healthy Roots Dolls

Yelitsa never had a doll that looked like her growing up. The one time her parents gave her a black doll, she burst into tears because it wasn’t the “pretty one”. Since then, Yelitsa has made it her goal to make sure that no other children feel the way she did about her own appearance growing. Yelitsa has gone from not knowing how to do her own hair at the age 21 to teaching young girls all about their own. Since starting Healthy Roots Dolls, Yelitsa has graduated from RISD with a BFA in Illustration and a concentration in Gender, Race & Sexuality. She has won the Startup Stampede, New Voices Fund Pitch competition, participated in the Backstage Capital Accelerator program and was awarded the first Main Street Ventures Wendy S. Lea Female founders Grant. In 2019, Healthy Roots Dolls took First Place and People's Choice at the Quicken Loans Detroit Demo Day. To date, Yelitsa has raised nearly $500,000 for Healthy Roots Dolls and helped thousands of parents provide their children with a product that makes them feel seen and beautiful. Her mission is to make sure everyone loves their healthy roots.

1:00 - 1:45 EST - Designing for Play with the IDEO Play Lab



Senior Portfolio Director, IDEO

As a Senior Portfolio Director, Michelle Lee leads IDEO’s Design for Play team, an integrated research, design, and development team bringing engaging, interactive and playful experiences to market. D4Play leverages the principles of play to connect with people at a deeper, emotional level that captivates, delights and empowers. Beyond specializing in toys and kids, their work encompasses impactful products and services that touch all ages and spans industries, including health, finance and education. Immersed in a globally recognized user-centered design firm, Michelle's IDEO tenure includes research and product design roles. She is driven by a desire to bring thoughtful solutions to fruition through user-centered design. Before IDEO, designing toys at VTech and University Games fueled her passion for play, while lead product roles at thredUP and ShopWell ignited her spirit of entrepreneurship.She holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MS in the Joint Program for Design from Stanford University, where she's also served as an instructor.

2:00 - 2:45 EST - Fireside Chat



Partner, Chief of Strategy Officer, Black Creatives; COO at Healthy Roots Dolls; Host of Super Creative Thursdays

The creative at the helm of your favorite brands. Throughout 20+ years of award-winning leadership, Delanie has led product design & development for mature, multi-national luxury brands, startups and emerging solo-preneurs. Delanie is the founder at Be Super Creative, a product development and design consultancy launched in 2010, following a layoff. She continued to serve clients while leading product development & design for the world’s oldest pencil company, Faber-Castell and it’s Creativity for Kids brand. Today Delanie serves as COO at Healthy Roots Doll company and is Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Black Creatives, a global network of over 15,000 professionals in communications, media, advertising, technology, and fashion. She is producer and host of Super Creative Thursdays, a weekly webcast where she talks business and brand with creative female entrepreneurs. Follow @DelanieWest on Instagram and Twitter.

Taura Stinson


Vocalist, Producer, Composer and Award Winning Songwriter

Taura Stinson is a Los Angeles based multi-hyphenated visionary. She is a vocalist, producer, composer, and award-winning songwriter. Her credits include the Blockbuster animated film ‘Rio 2’, where she served as lyricist. Taura also penned a song for legendary rock star Steven Tyler for ‘Epic’, Beyonce’s first animated feature. She also won the Critics Choice Award for best song in a documentary for her work on the film, ‘Step’, and was nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe award alongside Mary J. Blige and Raphael Saadiq for the film, ‘Mudbound’! Taura is an independent author and literary publisher whose first book, ‘100 Things Every Black Girl Should Know: for Girls 10-100’ received the In The Margins Award for at-risk youth. In addition, she leads “Believe-Become-Repeat Entertainment”, and has various scripted and unscripted television projects in development. Follow @TauraStinson
#BelieveBecome #BelieveBecomeRepeat #100BookSeries

3:00 - 3:45 EST - From Stories to Shelves: Understanding the Ecosystem of Entertainment Licensing in the Toy Industry



SVP of Global Product Development, NBCUniversal

Working in every aspect of kids entertainment and toy business, David has lead creative for many of the industry's most recognized and beloved brands, from Batman, WWE, Jurassic World, Hot Wheels and Barbie; and he has had the honor of working with some of the industry's best in class storytellers, including Universal, Warner Brothers, Pixar, and more. Currently, David is the Senior Vice President of global product development for NBC Universal consumer product division. David’s focus is on the successful formula of great partnerships plus empowering creatives to discover and deliver amazing products. In his twenty plus year career, David has been a toy designer, producer of animation, inventor of new brands, leader of creative, package designer, and responsible for overseeing manufacturing.



Merchandising Director, Walmart

Erin Fish is passionate about creating amazing customer experiences through great brands and great product. She started her career at Toyota in customer experience design and brand management. She then moved from the world of big cars to small vehicles where she managed the Boys and Girls brands for the Walmart account at Mattel. Her passion for driving disruption at retail has led her to her current role as Merchandising Director at Walmart for the first omni merchandising team leading the Girls Fashion, Small Doll and Dollhouse business.



Director, Global Collector Toy & Fashion Collaborations, Consumer Products, ViacomCBS

Glenda's experience spans 20-plus years in the toy industry, starting off at Madame Alexander Doll Company and making her way over to ViacomCBS Consumer Products almost 11 years ago. She currently specializes on collector toys and fashion collaborations, developing marketing plans, devising growth strategies, identifying and filling product category voids, procuring new licensees, and managing numerous current licensee relationships. She was a recipient of a Wonder Woman Award this year in the Licensor/Entertainment Category.



Owner, Master Toy Advisors

Leila Nosrati is the owner of Master Toy Advisors, a product innovation, licensing, and retail sales strategy consultancy focusing on toys, games, and kids' consumer products. An award-winning retail merchant with nearly 20 years of toy industry experience, her extensive product and retail knowledge and her passion for toys and character licenses fuels her clients' growth through collaborations that get new products to market faster, more efficiently, and more profitably.

4:00 - 4:45 EST - Empower Hour Live Q&A



President, The Toy Coach

Expert Empower Hour - Trade Show 101

Azhelle has been having way too much fun working in the toy industry for over 10 years with companies like Toys R Us, Party City, and Madame Alexander! She has 3 patented toy products, multiple design awards, and is the host of the well-known toy industry podcast, Making It In The Toy Industry. Today Azhelle is known in the toy industry as The Toy Coach. She loves helping people outside of the toy industry find their way in so that they can bring their toy ideas to life. Her online program, Toy Creators Academy, clarifies the toy development and launch process with step by step guidance. Her mantra for her followers is, make it toyetic!



President, Design Edge, Inc.

Expert Empower Hour - Manufacturing & Pricing

Matt Nuccio is the president of Design Edge inc, a toy and game development, marketing, manufacturing, inventing and consulting agency. They are headquartered in New York with two satellite offices in China. For over 30 years, Design Edge has been a leading development agency in the toys and games industry. For 4 years Matt co-chaired the Toy Association (TA) associate panel, representing all designers and inventors in the toy industry. Currently, Matt sits on the board of directors of the United Inventors Association of America (UIA), the Toy Association education advisory board and on the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG) advisory board. Matt also writes a column in Toy Family Entertainment magazine focusing on the toy industry and often lectures at New York Toy Fair, ASTRA, Chicago Toy & Game Fair, and Hong Kong Toy Fair and various inventor clubs around the world including the 2019 Emerging Innovation Summit in Melbourne Australia. Design Edge's products have been nominated for, and have also won, many industry awards such as TOTY (Toy Of The Year), TAGIE (Toy and Games Innovators), Games 100, Origin, and Family Fun among others. In 2019, Matt was honored by the National Security Agency (NSA) as an American Innovator and was recently listed for the second year in a row, by Mojo Nation, as one of the top 100 most influential people in the toy industry today.

Maureen McHale


President, CCO, McHale Design

Expert Empower Hour - Branding/Marketing

A real life “Wonder Woman,” Maureen McHale successfully grew McHale Design from a one-woman, home-based, graphic design start-up into a most sought-after branding firm in the toy and licensing industries. Her team of designers have branded Walmart’s six highly successful private toy brands, designed toy packaging for Godzilla V. Kong with Playmates Toys in anticipation of the new movie and continues working on the ever-green Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise with Playmates Toys. Celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2020, McHale Design employs 8 full-time designers to develop brand design, package design, brand and entertainment style guides, web design, and APPs for top-tier clients including Walmart, Playmates Toys, Spin Master and Moose Toys. Maureen’s strategy for success includes cultivating deep client relationships, over-delivering on creativity, and supporting employees to continually learn powerful software and stay abreast of technology trends. An official Wonder Woman in Toys, her commitment and unparalleled creativity have earned her the Women in Toys Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2009 as well as recognition of McHale Design from Print and Package Design magazines for design excellence and in 2018 status as a 3-time winner of American Graphic and Package Design Awards from GD USA. The mother of three grown children, Maureen lives and works in Long Beach, California.

Nancy Zwiers


Executive Coach, CMO Coaches

Expert Empower Hour - Branding/Marketing

Zwiers began her marketing career 40 years ago at P&G in CPG brand management. In 1990, she joined Mattel and rose to SVP of Global Marketing for the Barbie® brand. Zwiers founded consulting firm, Funosophy, Inc. in 2000 where she helped over 200 clients build their businesses, from start-ups to large multi-nationals like Disney. After 16 years as a successful entrepreneur, Zwiers joined Spin Master in 2015 as EVP/CMO, managing the 8 global business units. Helping people learn, grow, and play is Zwiers’ purpose and passion. Now retired from Spin Master, Zwiers has joined with CMO Coaches as executive coach.

Patrica Senior


Brand Marketer & Consultant, formerly Nickelodeon & Toys 'R' Us

Expert Empower Hour - Packaging

Patricia Senior is a Brand Marketer with 15 years of experience, recently with ToysRUs and Nickelodeon. She has developed hundreds of toys and related packaging for iconic children’s brands FAO Schwartz and EDUScience. Patricia’s passion is to create opportunities for children to learn skills through creative new experiences and reinforcing connections to their cultural identity. A native Venezuelan now residing in NY, Patricia is known for advocating for diversity and inclusion in her work. Patricia is inspired by her husband and their 2 children. In her free time, Patricia likes to explore specialty toy stores and discover the latest trends.

Rachel Griffin


Co-Founder, Playwise Partners

Expert Empower Hour - PR

An Advisory Board member for the Chicago Toy and Game Fair, two-time Women In Toys: Wonder Woman of the Year Finalist, and PRSA member, Rachel is a dynamic and best practice driven public relations leader with over 17 years of award-winning excellence. She has successfully launched numerous toy brands and franchises for top ten toy companies, including multiple Toy of the Year nominees and winners. She excels at implementing and negotiating strategic marketing & promotions, while deepening brand awareness year over year through comprehensive media coverage, events, digital and social media. Rachel is a proud foster mom, an accomplished marathon swimmer, and a competitive triathlete; proving that working hard at things you love and believe in, can take you the distance.

Sheena Stephens


Co-Founder, Playwise Partners

Expert Empower Hour - PR

With both in-house and agency experience, Sheena has led integrated communications programs for leading toy and consumer brands over the past 20 years. She recently led the PR and influencer campaigns to launch Shopkins, catapulting the brand to become a billion dollar lifestyle brand and licensed property. During her 10-year tenure working at Razor (scooters), she led all PR and social media and helped grow the brand beyond the original kick scooter into a leading outdoor lifestyle brand with electric scooters and go-carts. Sheena is a proud football mom, soccer mom, dance mom and dog mom. She lives in Park City, Utah, where she enjoys hiking and skiing.



President, Legal Stategist, Pottick Law PC

Expert Empower Hour - Intellectual Property

Stephanie Pottick is a legal, licensing and business consultant who is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and companies protect their brands and businesses. She focuses on trademarks, copyrights, contracts and licensing. Before becoming an attorney, Stephanie was an executive at Sky Kids Inc., a NJ toy company, where she was involved with various aspects of the business including sales, marketing, product creation, manufacturing and more. Stephanie’s slogan is Legal Advice Before You Need A Lawyer®. Her goal is to help brand and business owners create and grow successful programs through legal protection and by identifying opportunities, adding value and minimizing risk.

5:00 - 5:45 EST - Pitch Perfect: The Do’s and Don'ts of Pitching Your Inventions.

Adam Hocherman


VP of New Business, Playmonster

Adam is the Vice President of New Business at PlayMonster and also heads inventor relations at the company. Prior to joining the management team at PlayMonster in 2017, Adam was a two-time entrepreneur. Among other items, he is the creator of the Ok to Wake! line of sleep training clocks and nightlights and the Marbleocity line of laser cut wooden STEM marble machines. Adam lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts, USA with his wife and two daughters (ages 6 and 8). He is a pretty lo-fi guy and enjoys strategy board games, pinball, Red Sox baseball and cycling.



Sr. Director, Marketing and Development, Creativity. Inc.

Caitlin Gutekunst is a versatile business development executive with 10+ years of experience helping global brands like Disney, LeapFrog, Mattel, Viacom, Google, Amazon, and Netflix open untapped audience engagements and revenue by launching new consumer products and activating global strategic partnerships. She is the Senior Director of Marketing & Development at Creativity, Inc., an award-winning design and development studio that has helped their partners develop and launch over 7,000 products, from interactive toys to conversational AI apps.

David Winter


Sr. Director, Inventor Relations, Jazwares, LLC

David Winter excitedly joins Jazwares to head up their Inventor Relations department and lead the team with a focus on strong partnerships, exciting innovation, and incredible new product acquisition. With over a decade of experience, David's blend of product awareness and sense of innovation has allowed him to vet tens of thousands of new concepts; providing strategic direction, and insights that help align inventors to a company's portfolio resulting in a real number of contract opportunities.



Inventor Relations Specialist, Sr. Designer, Spin Master

Harrie has been a toy designer for over 10 years, working on multi-million dollar brands and has brought thousands of products to market. A true industrial design nerd that loves all the little details and strives to make kids happy. He now works in inventor relations, evaluating thousands of ideas and hunts for magical innovation in toys. Using his design background, he leads prelim design in taking the rough concepts and morphing them into rock solid brands for Spin Master.

Tanya Thompson_25634_Final


Director, Global Product Acquisitons, Games, Hasbro

Tanya Thompson is a passionate gamer and is working at changing the world through play. She is happy to be doing her dream job as the Director Global Gaming Acquisition and Inventor Relations for Hasbro, Inc. She’s thrilled to connect with so many innovators and creators from around the world looking for Hasbro’s next big game idea.  Tanya’s board service includes Chicago Toy and Game Group which promotes play through consumer events and fairs and HATCH which is a highly innovative community, movement, and a series of experiences designed to activate creativity to HATCH a better world. Her proudest accomplishment is raising three beautiful children with her husband Chris!

Trina McFarland


Owner & General Manager, TinkerTini, LLC

Having led Inventor Engagement for Disney, Jakks-Pacific, Fisher-Price, and Mattel, Trina McFarland now leads TinkerTini, a first of its kind Inventor Relations Agency with an impressive and quickly growing client roster and team of “IR” specialists. With a vision for “re-inventing inventing”, TinkerTini has just launched Tinkerly Innovation Platform, bringing best practices to inventor engagement and making open innovation accessible and instantly activated. In addition, TinkerTini is an active advocate for new inventors, providing free resources and support to help them understand the invention business model, improve, and find success with the TinkerNEXT program.

6:00 - 7:45 EST - Happy Hour



CEO, Alita's Brand Bar / WIT Launch: Innovation Summit Chair

Alita Friedman is a consummate entrepreneur who began her career as a CPA and auditor at Arthur Andersen, formerly one of the "Big Five" accounting firms. She is the principal at Alita’s Brand Bar, a premier consulting house that advises companies on developing new revenue streams for their brands through innovative and exciting extension strategies. As the former principal and Chief Brand Officer for UGLYDOLL, she spearheaded sales, product development, marketing, licensing and finance, creating a powerful consumer brand that skyrocketed into a globally released animated feature film. Alita was honored with the Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment (WIT) Wonder Women Award for Marketing and Branding in 2013 and has served as the WIT Executive Board Treasurer since 2016. She is the 2015 recipient of the President Farrington Award for her outstanding commitment to entrepreneurship at Lehigh University. There, Alita serves as the chair of the Advisory Council to the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation. She teaches as an adjunct instructor in the M.B.A. program where she created the course titled Ventures in Brand Licensing and was the 2020 Keynote speaker for the Women in Business Conference.

Allie headshot


Marketing Manager, WIT

Allie Benham is currently the Marketing Manager for Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment - running virtual events, webinars and coordinating news to support the mission of advancing women. Previously, Allie was the Head of Marketing with American Greetings Entertainment, overseeing global marketing, brand partnerships, PR and social media for brands including Care Bears, Madballs and the Netflix original series, Buddy Thunderstruck. Prior to that, Allie managed the hit Nickelodeon brand, "Yo Gabba Gabba!" while working for DHX Media, spending four years overseeing national touring concerts and promotions with Delta, KIA, Wonderful Pistachios, Vans and more. In her spare time, Allie shares smiles on social media with her fluffy chow chow, @FarleyTheFatBoy.

Mary Kay Russell


Executive Director, WIT

Mary Kay Russell brings more than 25 years of leadership experience to her role of Executive Director of Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment. As WIT’s first Executive Director since 2016, she oversees the global nonprofit’s day-to-day operations, member management, community engagement and business development. She formerly served as a WIT board member and Chicago Chapter Chair. Prior to WIT, Mary Kay held several positions in the toy industry, as a marketing consultant, inventor and manufacturer. She is based in Chicago and began her career at AT&T, where she worked for 15 years in a variety of management roles.



Program Manager, WIT

Working at the intersection of community, education, and creativity, Shannon is a strategic designer with a passion for creating and facilitating interactive learning experiences for individuals and teams working to be more innovative and creative thinkers. She has designed educational programming both virtually and IRL for university entrepreneurship programs, corporate leadership training, and non-profit volunteer organizations. Shannon is also the inventor of ZYX Sticks, an open-ended wooden building toy she developed while earning her degrees in mechanical engineering and product design.